Recent Content

Principles of Software Development

posted on 2019-05-27

Working at an institute for computational biology, my colleagues and I deal with computer code almost every day. Yet none of us is a trained software developer as such – we are biologists, physicists, and mathematicians who happen to have learnt a bit of programming on the side. Some of us (like myself) got into it as a hobby, most picked it up along the way. So over the past few weeks, I started to ask myself a question: “How can we become better at developing software?” The next question came naturally: “Well, what is good software development?”

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Termites - African Engineers

posted on 2019-05-20

I've been around termites all my life – their tall mounds and annoying habit of chewing books were a constant companion of life in Zambia. I always found them moderately interesting: their mounds are impressive, but usually I saw them as little more than a source of food for my perennial favourites, the ants. This week, however, I read a paper that showed me a little bit more about just how cool these little critters actually are.

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Conservation Optimism

posted on 2019-05-13

“These lectures always make me depressed”, a colleague of mine said as we walked out of the tropical biology course last Thursday. “Why?”, another asked. “Because every time, they show you just how badly we're messing up nature.” The rest of the group had to agree: studying ecology can be horribly depressing at times. Species are disappearing faster than we can count them, whole ecosystems are collapsing right in front of our eyes, and we don't seem to be able to do very much about it. So how do we deal with this desparate outlook? And is there any cause at all for optimism?

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Rezension: Darwin - Abenteuer des Lebens

posted on 2019-05-06

Sieben Monate reiste Jürgen Neffe um die Welt, der Reiseroute folgend, die seinerzeit Darwin an Bord der Beagle nahm. 2009 erschien dann sein Reisebericht: “Darwin – Das Abenteuer des Lebens”. Eine gut geschriebene 500-Seiten Reportage über Gott und die Welt, nur leider nicht die im Titel versprochene Darwin-Biografie…

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Guns and Numbers

posted on 2019-04-29

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine pointed out an article on gun control to me, which made the following claim: “Armed citizens are successful 94% of the time at active shooter events”. Written by a firearms training company, it analyses shoot-outs in the United States between 2000 and 2017. Basically, it says that armed citizens are highly effective at stopping shootings (and therefore, that more citizens ought to be armed). Having been asked to fact-check the article, here is what I think.

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Mechanistic Modelling in Ecology

posted on 2019-04-22

Few words in science are as imprecise as the term “modelling”. It is a term applied to a whole range of techniques, which often have nothing at all in common. Small wonder, then, that many of my ecologist colleagues don't know what I mean when I say that I am doing “mechanistic modelling”. This is an attempt to clear up that misunderstanding, and to explain where ecological modellers like myself fit into the wider landscape of ecological research.

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Basic Traffic Analysis with Unix

posted on 2019-04-15

So you want to know how many people visit your website, but don't want to set up Google Analytics or anything like that? That at least was the situation I found myself in when I started this blog. Turns out, if you just want a daily number of visitors, standard Unix tools are perfectly sufficient.

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Project Ecologia

posted on 2019-04-08

Six years ago, I was looking for a new programming project. My dream was to create a self-sustaining “virtual world”, a little ecosystem inside my computer. This was long before I knew there actually was a field called “ecological modelling” (which I now happen to work in), but the idea intrigued me. So I set about the task with all the confidence of one year's programming experience. I failed. But a year later, I picked up the pieces and started over, eventually producing a graphical ecosystem simulator – Ecologia.

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The Genius of Terry Pratchett

posted on 2019-04-01

So I've just finished reading another Discworld book, and once again I am struck by the amazing versatility of its author, Terry Pratchett. With rare skill, he manages to make you laugh and think and cry, all at the same time. It's as if he simultaneously touches your heart, your mind, and your vocal chords. I don't read many novels these days, but I happily make exceptions for his. How does he manage that?

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Communicating Science

posted on 2019-03-25

“What can we do to communicate our research to the public?” This was the question for a discussion session with some of my colleagues last week. Many scientists see the need for this kind of communication, but few know how to go about it, and even fewer actively do it. After all, how do you explain your work on, say, a channel protein of the Venus Flytrap to your neighbour, and why should he bother listening? It is a challenge. But believing that it's worth the effort to try, here are some general principles we found.

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Unless otherwise credited all material Creative Commons License by Daniel Vedder.
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